Legislature May Permit Ore. Teachers to Wear Religious Clothing

By Stephen Sawchuk — November 24, 2009 1 min read
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Betsy Hammond at the Oregonian turns in a great story about how the state legislature plans to take up a measure to overturn a 1923 law that prohibits teachers from wearing religious clothing or symbols, such as yarmulkes, crosses or headscarves, in the classroom.

I’ll admit to not knowing that this was prohibited in Oregon, much less anywhere else in the United States. But as it turns out, two other states also disallow teachers from wearing such symbols in the classroom, Hammond writes.

Clearly, the lines between freedom of expression and freedom of religion are thin and difficult to negotiate when it comes to teachers—public employees who are in a position of authority over children. Even if religious clothing is generally permitted, a lot of the fine lines about what a teacher can and can’t say about their beliefs are set fairly locally by districts.

It’s also interesting to consider that this is very much a cultural phenomenon. In France, with its very strict separation of church and state (la laïcité), not even public school students are allowed to wear religious symbols. That’s come up here in the U.S. locally and there have been court cases about it. But in France it’s a decades old national debate, partly because the country has a significant Muslim population. (Hat tip to my brother the historian for the background on this.)

In any case, it makes me wonder about the broader issue of teachers and the way in which their profession influences or curtails their 1st amendment freedoms in the classroom. Take, for instance, the flap about teachers wearing political buttons in New York during the election 2008 campaign.

Why not leave a comment and tell us what you make of this interesting and complex aspect of the teaching profession?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.